Even if you don’t have an ancestor buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor, you may well have a relative or two interred there. Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, for instance, is a distant cousin of mine twice, through our Bonney and Clark ancestors.
With 30,000 interments since 1836, the 260-acre cemetery is almost as populous as the living city of Bangor. The online database, which superintendent Stephen Burrill updates daily, has more than 28,700 entries, making it among the largest genealogical databases online in the state, I would estimate.
Needless to say, Burrill’s talk to Penobscot County Genealogical Society on Sept. 19 was well-received, so of course I want to share some of the highlights with Bangor Daily News readers.
A private nonprofit corporation since 1858, Mount Hope started out as a for-profit entity with most of the initial 31 lots sold at auction for $100. Those first lots were numbered not to give some order to burials, but according to the order in which they were purchased.
With the number of people buried greater than the number of names in the database, Burrill explained that there was no office on the property until 1907. In the early years, records were kept at the home of the person keeping them. In addition, some records were lost in the Bangor Fire of 1911. Burrill has tried to re-create records from gravestones when possible.
“Mount Hope is actually five cemeteries,” he said. The largest parcel is the property owned by Mount Hope Corp., and the city of Bangor owns 30 acres of municipal cemetery on both sides of Mount Hope Avenue. In addition, there are three separate Jewish cemeteries for the Bangor congregations — Beth Abraham, Beth Israel and Beth El.
The cemetery’s last major purchase was 100 acres in 1888. Mount Hope’s property, part of which is along State Street, extends back one mile from the Penobscot River.
Searching the online list of interments is easy. The search box can be accessed on the cemetery’s website at mthopebgr.com. Enter a surname in the box to pull up a list of burials by that surname.
For instance, I entered “Holland” so I could get the listing for Park Holland, Revolutionary War soldier and well-known surveyor in this part of Maine. The listing told me he was born Nov. 19, 1752; died May 21, 1844. When I clicked on his name, I also found that he was born in Shrewsbury, Mass., that his father was Jonas Holland, and that Park was buried in lot 102 CG, which happens to be on the top of the hill in the older part of Mount Hope Cemetery.
If I remember correctly, Charlotte A. Baldwin of Bangor, at one time state regent of the Maine Daughters of the American Revolution, is buried not far from Park Holland. Checking the Holland listings, I find that Charlotte died Jan. 16, 1929, and was the daughter of Thomas Baldwin. Her lot number is 252 CG, and indeed, standing in front of Charlotte’s monument on the hill, I can see Park Holland’s marker not too far away.
Do jot down the lot number and letters for those whose information you seek. Clicking on the map on the Mount Hope website, you will no doubt think that the map isn’t very large, and it doesn’t give much guidance in finding a person’s burial site.
That’s no surprise to the cemetery’s superintendent. Burrill said that within the next year, he hopes to have a better map available.
Family historians and others wanting to find burial places visit the office weekdays off the entrance at 1048 State St. for guidance in finding particular plots. You also may email Burrill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When you write to a cemetery superintendent, a town clerk or keeper of vital records, a librarian, a possible cousin or even a genealogy columnist, it is most helpful if you can be specific about your question. What you seek needs to feel like a manageable task. And when there is an online website available, as is the case with Mount Hope Cemetery, I recommend that you do what you can on your own before asking for help.
Mount Hope, which was built as the second “garden cemetery” in the country after Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Mass., is one of the best-kept cemeteries I’ve ever seen.
Burrill said that the facility is fortunate to be able to do burials year-round, which means that, when spring arrives, there is no flurry of burials that need to be done before Memorial Day.
A look at records online will occasionally show information on someone who died in Bangor but was buried in another town. The reason for this is that for many years, the cemetery’s vault served as a “custody” vault over the winter for people who died in Bangor and would be buried later somewhere else.
Thirty percent to 40 percent of those buried these days at Mount Hope are for people from outside the state who have a connection to Bangor and want to be buried here.
We usually think of people who share a burial lot as having some connection to each other, but that wasn’t always true years ago, Burrill explained. Funeral homes sometimes bought a lot that had room for six people in order to bury one or two individuals. If the family did not take all the slots for burials, the funeral home may have used remaining spaces for other burials.
Many of us are aware that Mount Hope also operates a crematorium which serves numerous funeral homes in Maine whose patrons wish to be cremated. These records are not public, and I can understand why. Cremation seems to me more like a medical process than a vital record.
Having said that, I can tell you that when someone is cremated in Maine these days, that is indicated on the death certificate, which is filled out by the funeral director.
The box labeled “DISPOSITION” is filled in with the name and town of the crematory when cremation is done, not with the name of the cemetery or other location where the cremains are buried.
Under “method of disposition,” the boxes available to be checked are: “temporary storage,” “burial,” “cremation,” “removed from state,” “used by medical science” and “other (specify).”
As for the process of cremation, the Mount Hope website offers interesting information about it.
For information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402, or email email@example.com.